Which position in soccer is in charge of putting the ball in the net? The striker, of course. But what is a striker, how do they play, what skills do they need?
I should know! After all, it’s my favorite position! The one I play all the time.
A striker in soccer is a type of forward player whose main objective is to score goals. Positioned near the opposing team’s goal, they create and/or capitalize on scoring opportunities using their game reading and anticipation abilities, shooting skills, speed, agility, and positional awareness.
The above answer is only scratching the surface, though. There’s a whole lot to learn about the soccer striker position. And it’s all here, in this post!
What Is a Striker in Soccer?
A striker in soccer is one of the sport’s most advanced players. It’s positioned closer to the opponent’s goal, and its primary responsibility is to convert chances created by their teammates into goals.
This offensive player’s highest skill is understanding the best place to be at the right time to capitalize on any available chances and score goals.
They know how to read the game, anticipate the play, and escape from opposing defenders. More importantly, they can shoot the ball with adequate power, technique, and accuracy.
Their role is paramount, as without a competent striker who can consistently tuck chances away, it becomes arduous for any team to secure victories.
There are different types of strikers, with distinct characteristics and playing styles, even in the same team or squad. However, their job remains the same: to put the ball in the back of the net.
What Position Does a Striker Play?
A striker is strategically positioned closest to the opponent’s goal, at the forefront of the team, to try and take their team’s scoring chances to fruition.
Occupying the most forward position on the field, they are the primary goal scorer for their team.
In a traditional soccer setup, the striker has center-attacking midfielders or a second striker behind them and wingers by the sides who support his/hers efforts to score goals.
Any other player can do it during a soccer game, but the striker is the most likely to score or to put the other team’s goal in danger. That is their top priority.
With the way soccer positions are set up, the number nine position is usually up against the opposing goal.
That explains why strikers traditionally wore jersey number 9. And why the striker position is commonly referred to as the forward or center forward position.
Numbered jerseys in soccer first appeared in the 1933 English FA Cup final between Everton and Manchester City. One of the strikers wore the number 9, making it synonymous with the center-forward position.
This has changed over time, though. Jersey numbers in the modern game no longer reflect the positions played.
Different Types of Strikers and Their Playing Styles
There are different types of strikers with distinct playing styles and responsibilities that teams can choose to employ, such as:
- Target Man or Target Forward
- Poacher or Finisher
- False 9 or Playmaker
- Second Striker
- Complete Forward
While there is some overlap in their attacking contributions, each striker variation has a unique set of actions and requires the player to adapt their style to the specific needs of the team and game situation.
Let’s explore the different types of strikers and how they participate in the game.
Target Man or Target Forward
Although people often use target man or target forward to mean striker, those terms are best used to refer to a specific type of striker.
One who acts as a focal point for their team’s attacking maneuvers, receiving long balls or crosses and distributing them to their teammates.
These players are usually tall and strong, excelling at winning aerial battles and holding up the ball.
They play with their back to the goal to be available for long passes from the goalkeeper, defenders, or midfielders, providing depth for their team.
When they receive a ball, their physicality is used to shield the ball from opponents allowing them to wait for support from midfielders or wingers.
Target forwards can score many goals through crosses and set pieces, as they are usually experts at heading the ball.
But they can also create goal-scoring opportunities for their teammates.
Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Olivier Giroud are a few fine examples of great target men with exceptional skills and abilities in this position.
Poacher or Finisher
A poacher is a type of striker who isn’t too involved in building up plays but has such a tremendous killer instinct in front of the goal that every team finds them invaluable.
Dubbed matadores, they are top-notch finishers, especially from close range inside the penalty area.
Poachers seem to have a sixth sense of where the ball will end, allowing them to be in the right place at the right time while escaping their markers.
They have precise shooting skills and react and run instantly to pounce on well-placed crosses, loose balls, or defensive blunders and convert them into goals.
False Nine or Playmaker
A False Nine or Playmaker is a cunning and unique type of striker who plays a vital role in their team’s attacking play.
They’re not just focused on scoring goals. They significantly contribute to build-up play and create goal-scoring opportunities for their teammates.
False Nines have elevated tactical awareness, impeccable vision and ball control, and excellent technical skills for finishing, dribbling, and passing.
They understand when to drop deep into midfield or run forward. Movements that open space in the opposing defense, which is then explored by their teammates to receive assists from them.
Lionel Messi, Roberto Firmino, and Jonas are some of the best Playmakers in Soccer History.
A Second Striker is positioned just behind the number one striker — that’s why they are also called Supporting Strikers.
Their role may depend on the team’s tactics and their particular strengths.
Some Second Strikers prioritize scoring goals, but most assume a playmaker role, linking the midfield and the forward line and creating scoring opportunities for the team.
They possess exceptional vision, creativity, passing and dribbling prowess, and positional awareness.
Combined with quick decision-making, they have what they need to run into channels and dribble past defenders to create opportunities for themselves or assists for their teammates.
Complete Forwards are highly versatile strikers who can play multiple jobs depending on the coach’s options or the moment of the match.
They have a broad set of skills.
They can score goals, contribute to the build-up play, disrupt the opponent’s defense with intelligent runs, create goal-scoring opportunities, and make assists.
They can act as second strikers, playmakers, or closer to the sides.
They can also play as the target forward. They know how to hold the ball, maintain possession under pressure, and effectively distribute it to midfielders, wingers, or other forwards.
Complete Forwards also help with defending. They actively participate in high-pressing tactics, unsettling opposing plays. They also go back to try and regain possession whenever needed.
This super-qualified striker has excellent first touch, ball control, and passing skills, accurate shooting levels from afar or inside the penalty area (with enough composure to remain calm when facing the keeper).
They are also able to dribble past defenders with ease.
Tactically speaking, Complete Forwards know how to read the game and have vision and positional awareness. Essential skills to set up the most dangerous plays that lead to goal opportunities or assists.
The Role of a Striker: What Does a Striker Do in Soccer?
Striker’s Attacking Role
The primary role of a striker is to score goals; they need to figure out how to get the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net.
They have the opposite role of a goalkeeper, as the former aims to score goals, and the latter aims to block them.
Other responsibilities include:
Shooting at Goal
The most obvious responsibility is shooting at the goal.
Developing power, technique, and accuracy in shooting during each training session can increase the chances of beating the opposing goalie.
Being Available for Passes
Positioning themselves in the right place to be available for long and short passes is one of their primary attacking responsibilities.
Their teammates are working to pass them the ball so they can score or assist.
When receiving a long pass with no open spaces to explore or under pressure, number nines should maintain possession while waiting for support.
Besides that, CFs also need to make precise passes to build up plays and create scoring opportunities.
Create & Exploit Space
Strikers are also expected to create space on the opposing defense.
They do so by moving around and luring defenders out of position.
These movements allow a teammate to find extra room in front of the goal to take a shot. Or to get inside the penalty box to provide an assist.
At the same time, by doing intelligent runs, strikers can exploit existing space to disrupt the opposing backline.
Take Control of the Game
Depending on their characteristics and experience, some strikers are aggressive and take control of the soccer game.
Instead of waiting for the ball, they go down to the midfield to get it and build a play from the back. They assume the game flow and give themselves and their teammates a better scoring chance.
Great strikers like Robert Lewandowski (from Poland and Barcelona FC) often do this.
Striker’s Defensive Role
In today’s soccer, even forwards and strikers aren’t excused from defensive work.
And while their main focus lies in the attacking third, strikers have defensive duties they must attend to.
They need to help by:
- Pressing opposition defenders – Forcing errors to regain possession for their team.
- Blocking passing lanes – Anticipating opposing plays and intercepting crucial passes.
- Tracking back – Providing support to midfielders and defenders during the opponent’s counter-attacks.
- Help out in set-pieces – Since soccer strikers are usually tall, they can also help defend during set-pieces. It is not unusual to see strikers mark the tallest players from the opponent side, usually the defenders.
What Makes a Striker? Characteristics of a Striker in Soccer
A Center Forward carries the team and should be able to demonstrate leadership skills.
As the person to whom the ball is directed, they should be able to read the game and guide their teammates on the best plays to maximize the opportunity.
Since CFs are primarily tasked with scoring goals, the team’s morale rests with them.
With good leadership skills, they can motivate their teammates and psyche them up for the next attack until they find a win.
As much as soccer is a physical game, it’s also mental. Confidence is critical for any striker.
The striker has to be sure that they are fit for the role. They have to be confident in their technique to make a winning play.
It isn’t just a matter of belief but built over time with deliberate practice.
When starting out, if a striker can’t handle a hard ball, they’ll feel insecure about their abilities.
But, sufficient training under good management reinforces one’s belief in their skills and eventually boosts their confidence.
Strength and Stamina
A striker has to be physically strong and have a lot of stamina.
Remember, the striker is up against aggressive defenders; if they are weak, they have no chance.
Nonetheless, their physical strength and energy shouldn’t hinder their agility.
They should be able to move swiftly, dribble the ball past the defender, and position it for the perfect goal shot.
What Skills Does a Soccer Striker Need?
Various soccer skills are essential to all footballers, but even more so for strikers.
To be an exceptional goal-scorer, they need a unique combination of skills and traits.
Some key features of a successful striker include:
- Elite Finishing
- Clever Movement
- Mental Toughness
- Teamwork and Vision
- Excellent technical skills
The Key Skills and Traits of a Great Striker
In addition to the skills and traits expanded below, great strikers constantly self-assess and work on improving their abilities.
Dedication to the game, learning from the best strikers in history, and adapting their gameplay as needed are hallmarks of outstanding goal-scorers.
Being agile allows strikers to evade tackles, move through tight spaces, and turn around quickly to receive the ball or make a shot on goal.
This requires center forwards to work on their physical fitness, acceleration, and stamina to maintain their intensity and elasticity throughout the soccer game.
Depending on the type of striker, being fast is a must-have skill.
But it is much more than running quick.
Swift mind: See a scenario, analyze it, and find a solution within a blink of an eye.
Quick feet: The ability to switch feet quickly while dribbling and running.
Fast running: Being able to run faster than the opposition.
Instant mobility: Quickly maneuver between defenders.
Explosive acceleration: The ability to achieve great speed in a second and leave your opponent behind.
A top striker can score goals from various situations in a soccer game, regardless of the distance (long or close-range shot), style (header, bicycle kick, volley, one-touch finish), or the ball’s state (moving or stationary).
They must be able to shoot with both power and finesse and be accurate in their attempts.
Regularly practicing shooting techniques and drills helps improve this skill.
Off-the-ball runs that create space for teammates or provide scoring opportunities are vital, especially for number nines.
Finding gaps in the opposing defense requires a combination of intelligence, timing, and cunning movement.
That explains why developing an understanding of the game and working on positioning enhances the ability to be more decisive (= more goal chances).
Scoring goals requires not only physical attributes but also a strong mental focus.
CFs need determination, composure, confidence, and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure.
Maintaining a positive mindset and learning from missed chances instead of wasting too much time lamenting them is crucial for consistent performance.
Teamwork and Vision
While individual skill is critical to be successful in this position, a footballer needs to work well with their teammates and develop good team chemistry.
Effective communication and understanding each other’s movements and passing patterns are essential.
Strikers should also have tactical knowledge, contribute to the team’s defense, and excel at creating goal-scoring opportunities for their teammates.
Excellent Technical Skills
The world’s best footballers are said to be born with excellent technical skills for first touch, ball control, dribbling, passing, and shooting.
This skill set is essential for strikers to unlock defenses, create space, and goal-scoring opportunities.
The first touch is a player’s ability to receive and bring the ball under control.
Having ball control is knowing how to drive the ball at high or slow speeds and keep it glued to your feet, especially under pressure.
Dribbling, passing, and shooting are also important yet distinct technical skills, as there are different techniques behind them.
Good strikers need top-level technical skills to gain an advantage when trying to materialize the goals they are expected to score.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the job description of a striker?
The job description of a striker is to score goals and create scoring opportunities for their teammates.
They must use their skills to read the game, find and exploit spaces in the opposition’s defense, create scoring opportunities, and convert them into goals.
Strikers may also contribute to the team’s defensive efforts, hold the ball to create a play and assist their teammates in mounting attacks.
What’s the difference between a forward and a striker?
The difference between a striker and a forward is that forwards are all attacking positions, including midfielders and wingers.
A striker is a player in the position closest to the opposing goal and the one tasked with scoring goals for the team when opportunities arise.
What is the difference between a striker and an attacker?
The difference between a striker and an attacker is their primary responsibility. The striker’s role is to score goals, and the attacker’s is to create and finish goal-scoring opportunities.
Striker and attacker are used interchangeably in soccer, but they mean different things.
Generally speaking, a striker is a specific position in soccer, the primary goal scorer in a team, usually positioned in the center-forward role.
An attacker is a broader term for any player whose job is to threaten the opponent’s goal by creating chances or scoring goals (which includes wingers, second strikers, and attacking midfielders).
Do strikers need to be fast?
Strikers don’t necessarily need to be fast, as speed is not a requirement for all strikers.
Nevertheless, being fast can be an advantage for some players in this position.
Speed allows Center Forwards to exploit spaces in the defensive line and get to the ball before their opponents to create scoring opportunities.
However, this is not the only critical attribute. A striker also needs excellent ball control, precise shooting skills, and tactical understanding.
Do strikers play defense?
Strikers are primarily offensive players and do not typically play defense. However, in modern soccer they are often expected to contribute to defensive duties.
They may be called upon in certain situations, such as defending set pieces or pressing opposing defenders to disrupt their play, force errors, or regain possession.
That said, their involvement in the defense will depend on the team’s overall tactical approach.